In summer twilight, the Fanci Freez on State Street is the kind of place you remember from childhood, a neighborhood snack shack glowing neon, with a patio full of kids in swimsuits and a line of cars in the drive-thru. The comforting static of the intercom breaks through the top 40 music and conversation. You can smell the French fries from two blocks away. Everyone parents included is eating ice cream.
I am of two minds about summer. The season is about just-plucked fresh fruit and vegetables, raw or branded black from the grates of a grill. Local, organic, and healthy are easier to do in summer than any other time. But on the other hand, summer is like one long holiday, and I want corn dogs and frozen bananas and pistachio milkshakes. This kind of food is an actual treat not the daily indulgence we are told we deserve for merely participating in modern society.
At the Fanci Freez, the kitschy look is not all that comes from another era.
On a recent visit, the Super Burger ($3.59) was as well-composed and satisfying as any drive-in burger in recent memory. Though not quite the Red Steer Ham-O-Neer of my youth, this is a smallish, done-through patty on a toasted bun with the requisite old-school pickles, lettuce, onions, and special sauce plus a slice of ham and American cheese. Hot, juicy, well-seasoned I couldve put away a half dozen of these. (Tomato costs extra, but is worth it.)
Fries and gems ($1.39 for small, $2.39 large, $3.29 jumbo) were crispy, crackling hot, and perfectly salty. Like the burger, everything was fresh, made to order, not even greasy. The gems on this day were outstanding imagine how good a tater tot can be, and they were that good. (These come with ketchup or fry sauce, but you pay 50 cents for extra of either.)
Best of all was the not-on-the-menu-but-made-every-day hand-dipped corn dog ($2.99). It comes to you still sizzling from the fryer, deep, dark, golden. The cornmeal batter is just sweet enough, the right consistency, and an exact match with mustard (for me) or ketchup (for my wife). We liked the one we split so well, we came back another day entirely for corn dogs and astoundingly refreshing fresh-squeezed lemonade (a mere 50 cents more than a regular soda), and they were just as good the next time.
Another trip, maybe too soon to be quite in the mood for it, the handmade fish and chips ($6.99) were a little less glorious. Though a bar-and-grill-size portion, the batter on about half of the pieces of fish had slipped off while frying, which exposed the cod to toughening direct contact with the oil, and just from being held in a closed Styrofoam container for a minute, the fries steamed themselves limp. I liked, though, that this came with not just tartar sauce but a little packet of malt vinegar and some fresh cut lemon. Nice touches.
If you eat like this every day, you might not find this cuisine a revelation. If Ive eaten six cheeseburgers in a week (and, alas, Ive had weeks like this), then Im a little less in love with the Fanci Freez cheeseburger. But if you eat here once in awhile, it does seem special, and not just because it tugs at nostalgia.
My view: If you want to eat a cheeseburger and fries, do it. Just make sure its a good one. I have recently tried to find a healthy option at the Fanci Freez and consider it a lesson learned the grilled chicken sandwich ($4.49) inspired me only to immediately order a chocolate malt.
At last then, we come to dessert, and at this, the Fanci Freez is peerless. Most of the ice cream treats and shakes are built from a soft-serve base, and almost every possible creation imaginable is available here. Dipped cones ($1.99-$3.59) come in a dozen flavors, the colors unreal and carnival-bright. The hard-shell-chocolate-coated frozen banana ($2.39) is a personal summer standby, trumped only by that pistachio shake ($2.49 for a 10-ounce baby-size, which is plenty, all the way up to $6.29 for a 44-ouncer), thick and creamy and seafoam green. I counted over 40 flavors, some of which are made with fresh fruit. A malt is 50 cents extra. My sisters boyfriend swears by the Fanci Freez Boston shake, which is a full shake with a sundae on top. His version is marshmallow shake and hot fudge sundae; there are hundreds of different combinations.
There are plenty of Boise traditions that arent half as fun on a summer night.
Email Alex Kiesig: firstname.lastname@example.org